Solutions to winter damage in your yard
After this year’s harsh winter, we will see different patterns in our lawns and garden this season. To help you identify what to focus on, we have produced a quick summary of the priority items below.
However, if in doubt, don’t hesitate to call any of our stores for specific concerns in your garden.
Broken branches. Many evergreens end up on the ground as a result of snow and ice loads, along with other weak-wooded trees. Check your yard where branches have broken off, and make clean cuts on the tree, back to the outside edge of the ring where the lost branch is attached to the trunk. It will be critical to make clean cuts to avoid infection and disease spreading through the tree. For more details read our garden tip.
Hangers. Snapped, cracked and popped branches that are still hanging on need to be removed. Be especially wary of bigger ones that might drop at any time and cause damage to you, others or property underneath. Call an experienced (and insured) tree professional to remove these dangers. Also be aware that hangers are often under tension and will snap up and could seriously injure unaware homeowners. Cleaning off small branches from the ground is fine. For the bigger and higher damage, we recommend hiring a professional.
Saggers. Lots of cedars, hemlocks, junipers, yews, boxwoods and similar evergreens might look badly misshapen, though not quite broken apart. As temperatures warm, these plants may spring back into shape better than you think. So wait until the weather warms consistently before doing anything drastic.In some cases, you might be able to use ties to bundle up and pull back splayed-apart branches. We recommend using a soft, wide band to tie branches in place, to avoid any further damage to the plant. Don’t tie it too tight and check later in the season to see if the form has recovered when the ties are loosened or removed.
Prune out all of the damaged branches, then sit back and wait to see what happens.
Dealing with Salt Damage in Your Yard
Salty residue runs off into streams, and corrodes bridges and car under-carriages. It is less known for the damage it does to plants and is something we’re going to have to watch for in the coming weeks and months.
Winter salt-spreading affects plants in two ways:
One is directly, such as when plows and passing cars spray salty slush onto roadside plants. Especially with evergreens – many of which are salt-sensitive – this can lead to brown needle tips and even brownouts of whole sections.
The second problem occurs when excess salt ends up in soil when salted snow and ice is plowed or shoveled onto lawns and landscaped beds. This build up of salt in the soil can cause less obvious damage such as, leaves that brown around the edges or leaves that colour early in fall or drop prematurely.
Excess salt in the soil reduces roots’ ability to take up water. That’s why the leaf and needle symptoms look a lot like drought injury – browning at the tips and margins.
Soil compaction, due to excess salt in the soil, can also occur and is more prevalent in clay type soils. One saving grace is that we usually get enough spring rain to wash salt-spray drift off of plants and leach salt buildup out of root zones. With salt, damage increases both with higher amounts and longer exposure to it. Therefore, the worst combination is a lot of salt in winter, then limited rain in spring, then a hot, dry summer.
What can we do about it, if we don’t experience much spring rainfall?
Look at your roadside plantings. If you notice white salt residue on the needles and branches, give the plant a good wash with your garden hose. That will alleviate direct salt-spray damage. To mitigate excess salt in the soil, a deep end-of-winter soaking or two will aid nature’s rains. We advise soaking with 2 inches of water over a 2- to 4-hour period (assuming it’s filtering in and not running off). Alternatively, applying granular or powdered gypsum (calcium sulfate) to the soil before watering or before a rain can help uncompact the soil.
Mending the winter damage in your yard
Ice storms, freezing temperatures, snow, salt… your plants have been through a lot this winter! Here are some symptoms and solutions for your yard damage.
Cold injury. We might see some dieback and possibly even dead plants in some species that are borderline hardy to our area. Woody plants in the correct winter-hardiness zone (Zones 5 or lower in our case) deal with cold by “hardening” themselves over winter. Having a consistent cold is actually less harmful than one of those yo-yo winters or worse yet when a late cold snap hits after temperatures warmed.
Therefore we are recommending not to be too quick to remove cold-injured plants. Some of these plants suffer dieback of the top growth but push up new growth later in spring from the roots. Some plants that are naturally late in breaking dormancy are hibiscus, hydrangea, Japanese Maples and Butterflybush.
Be patient...some plants will bounce back as the weather/temperatures warm up. Wait until at least the end of May to see what happens. You’ll likely be able to just prune off dead wood and let new growth fill back in. Plants that normally bloom in early spring, may not bloom as heavily as they would after a traditional season.
Frost cracks. Another way winter damages trees is by freezing wood overnight and then splitting it apart vertically in the morning when sun quickly thaws it.
This expansion-related frost-crack damage happens particularly to thin-barked species such as cherry and maple, and it often happens on the eastern (i.e. morning-sun) exposure.
The good news is that most trees grow out of this. If the tree is otherwise healthy, it will put out callus (tissue) and heal the wound. So there is no need to paint or tar these splits.
Winterburn. Evergreens – especially broadleaf ones, such as holly, cherry laurel, nandina and boxwood – might look browned and beaten toward the end of a cold winter. Most of that leaf injury is due to cold winter winds. Use of an anti-dessicant such as wiltpruf, before winter sets in minimizes damage.
An end-of-winter pruning or shearing back to live wood will fix almost all of this. Given a month or two of new growth, most of these winter-burned evergreens will be as good as new.
Animal damage. How’s your lawn looking?
See any surface tunnels that zig-zag all over?
That would be damage from voles, which are mouse-like rodents that normally hide under groundcover and along walls so predatory birds don’t eat them.
However, under snow cover in winter, voles venture out into the open yard in search of food. The tunneling is collateral damage that will usually fill back by late spring.
Scatter some new grass seed as soon as you can get on the lawn, if you want to speed up the process. We recommend Parkwood® Grass seed and Viva Lawn repair. It will also be critical to complete a full season Lawn Fertilizing Program to create a luscious green lawn. Check out our different fertilizer package options instore.
Much worse than lawn injury is what voles, rabbits and other rodents do to trees, shrubs and groundcovers over winter. These sharp-tooth voles can eat the roots out from underneath a tree or girdle all the bark off. That can kill whole large trees. Once that damage is done, it’s done. One solution heading into winter is to wrap tree trunks with a protective tree guard to repel rodents.
For information on your specific concerns, contact any of our stores for expert advise in your garden.